You never know what life has to offer you. In fact, I think it was Forrest Gump that said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates… you don’t know what you’re gonna get.’
I’d just got home from the grocery store and was unpacking the vegetables neatly in the vegetable compartment when I heard a car pull up in the driveway. I went to the window to see who it could be? I wasn’t expecting anyone to visit or expecting my husband home so early. Peeping behind the blinds, I saw two burly men in gray suits get out of a police car. They looked very official but were wearing dark sunglasses that reminded me of the mafia. One of the men lifted his glasses so they sat on top of his head; the other carried a clipboard. They nodded at each other as they made their way to the front door. My stomach lurched as I wondered what these men could possibly want at this address. I was convinced they must have the wrong house. They weren’t dressed like police officers. Oh God, had something happened to the children, Phil?
A loud knock came to the door, so loud I thought the door would cave in. I pushed my hair back and straightened my cream top that I’d managed to stain after I’d dropped ketchup down my front at lunchtime. Nervously, I approached the door, not knowing what to expect.
The taller of the two men, the one still wearing the dark shades over his eyes, spoke first.
“Yes, that’s me,” I replied.
I felt my heart pumping. “What’s happened?” Who are you? Has something happened to my family? Please tell me it’s not my kids, please?” I was holding on to the edge of the door to steady myself. My mind started to wander as I’d read in the newspapers of men coming to women’s homes during the day and attacking them. My mind went blank and a thousand reasons went through my head, but out of all the reasons that flashed in front of me, it was not the one I was expecting.
“We have a warrant for your arrest.”
“What? Pardon me?” I said.
“Detectives Fraser and Samuels from the New York Police Department. We’re here to arrest you.” They both flicked their badges in front of my face, and I flinched backwards, as they showed them so fast that I could have sworn that they’d rehearsed it.
“Arrest me? What am I supposed to be guilty of? I have no idea.”
I couldn’t focus. My legs felt as though they wouldn’t hold me upright. My hands shook uncontrollably as I held on tight to the edge of the door, enough to make my knuckles go white. I’d had a few speeding tickets, as well as a few parking tickets over the years, but I prided myself on paying all my bills on time, and in fact, usually well before their due date.
Is this really happening to me? This must be a joke. I started to giggle… I think more from nerves than anything else. I was frozen to the spot as the reality started to hit home.
“You know what you did, lady,” said the detective, the one with his glasses on his head.
“I know what I did,” I yelled back him. “Yes, I do know what I did. Today, I took my children to school, met a friend for lunch, did my grocery shopping and came home. I unpacked the groceries and here we are it seems. So, what’s the crime in that, and what the hell are you arresting me for?” I was starting to feel agitated now. I couldn’t make sense of anything that was happening nor reason with them, it seemed.
One of them, I don’t remember which one now, as I was so taken aback, told me he was going to read me my rights…
“My rights? What rights? What have I done wrong? Would you please tell me?”
The man with the clipboard looked at the other, “Miranda warning?” He nodded and looked down at his clipboard and cleared his throat.
“Miranda who?” I shouted.
The two men ignored me, although they both smirked at each other.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time.”
Grabbing me by the arm, they handcuffed me and dragged me outside onto the drive. The shorter one was strong, and he hurt my arm as he pulled me along. He said, “Come with us.”
I was worried. The kids would be home, and I wouldn’t be there for them. What would the neighbors think? I’d left my handbag on the kitchen bench with my phone. My life was in that phone. I couldn’t even remember my own phone number off by heart, let alone Phil’s. How would I contact him? I felt so afraid and vulnerable.
The two men escorted me in the police car to the jailhouse. They didn’t speak to me again, and to be honest I was lost for words anyway. My mouth was dry, so much so that I couldn’t swallow. Fear had taken over and it was hard for me to take in a deep breath.
I was greeted by a large woman with a strong eastern European accent. Her short curly brown hair looked as though it had just been permed and was frizzy at the ends. She told me to strip off my clothes and handed me an oversized black and white striped uniform. Her eyes looked like pee-holes in the sand and were lost within her large rotund face. Her legs were muscly and solid, and I couldn’t help but think she would have made a better man than a woman. In fact, her stance reminded me of a bulldog. My fear seemed to please her. I had never felt so humiliated in all my life, and I was still no wiser of who, or what I had supposedly done.
I spent seven long days locked up in that awful cell, and for seven long days I protested my innocence, but no one would listen. No one wanted to know. I was frightened, humiliated and in the end left with no dignity.
I was allowed one phone call. I was so embarrassed has had to phone my husband’s office to get hold of him. I’d always relied on my contacts in my phone so much so that I didn’t even know his phone number. I certainly do now, I can tell you, and off by heart at that, as it is tattooed into my mind.
Phil had been out of his mind with worry about me, especially as the kids had come home to find the door wide open, their mother gone and her belongings still there. Mrs Jones, from next door, had told them I’d been taken away suddenly in a police car. You can imagine their angst.
Phil had my back and tried to tell them I was a good person, but it didn’t matter what anyone thought, they’d already convinced themselves that I was guilty.
They wanted five thousand dollars bail money and Phil managed to borrow enough money to bail me out. He promised me we would get to the bottom of this, but if the law didn’t believe me, then how could my law-abiding husband convince them otherwise.
It took them a month to finally admit that they’d arrested the wrong woman. ‘Hallelujah,’ I cried, but the ordeal still really wasn’t over. They still wouldn’t tell me what I’d been accused of or arrested for. I didn’t seem to have any rights whatsoever. I wasn’t going to let them get away with it I decided, so I went public. I filed a lawsuit that violated my constitutional rights and I asked them what had happened to the fourth amendment that is supposed to protect citizens from wrongful arrests without any probable cause.
Later, I finally found out that I had been mixed up with a woman who had a similar name as my own. Apparently, Julianna Roberts was the woman they were looking for, not innocent old me, Julianne Roberts with an ‘e’ at the end. Just one change of letter, a stupid mistake, but one that has impacted on my life forever. I also found out that it was a robbery I was accused of committing to a dear elderly lady who couldn’t fight back. All her jewelry and her life savings were stolen, and she had been assaulted, sustaining broken ribs and a broken nose.
I’m a nurse, for goodness sake, and this ‘mistake’ nearly lost me my job. It took four years for them to expunge the crime from the records and for me to even be able to hold my head up.
I was upset to find out that the five thousand dollar bail Phil had had to borrow from a loan shark to get me out, will not be paid back. So, we still have to carry the load even though proven innocent.
I must admit that now, whenever I see a police car, I feel so uneasy. The fear still stays with me and I still have nightmares.
I also make sure that if anyone writes my name, I check it twice and say, “You know Julianne has an ‘e’ on the end, don’t you?”